How much will the Rwanda plan cost taxpayers? Labour slams 'astronomical' waste of money on asylum scheme
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The cost of the government's scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda could hit £290 million before a single flight takes off.
So far, Downing Street has been reluctant to say whether there have been any additional payments to Kigali beyond the initial £140 million. However, yesterday the Home Office's permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft revealed the new cost in a letter to two committee chairs - Dame Diana Johnson and Dame Meg Hillier.
This will further increase the pressure on Rishi Sunak, who has bet his whole premiership on the success of this policy. The government believes that by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda it will deter those crossing the Channel in small boats, something charities and campaigners have questioned.
This has been stalled by legal challenges, and last month the Supreme Court ruled that policy was unlawful as there was a risk asylum seekers could be sent back to their home countries, where they're in danger. Sunak hopes that his twin plan, of a legally-binding treaty with Rwanda, which states that no one sent from the UK can be moved out of the country, and a new law declaring the east African country as safe according to Parliament, will get flights off the ground.
However, he is under pressure from both the left and right of his party over the new bill, something the new costs will only heighten. Labour accused the Tories of wasting an "astronomical" amount of taxpayers' money on a "failing scheme".
How much will the Rwanda plan cost taxpayers?
All week journalists have been asking the government how much the Rwanda scheme will cost taxpayers, and we were told repeatedly that we would have to wait until the Home Office accounts are published. However, yesterday Rycroft, the most senior civil servant in the Home Office, sent the new costs to the committee chairs saying that "ministers have agreed that I can disclose now the payments so far in the 2023-24 financial year".
The first payment, which had already been reported on, from 2022-23 was of a total of £140 million paid to Rwanda - which was made of £120 million through an Economic Transformation and Integration Fund and a separate payment of £20 million to set up infrastructure for any asylum seekers sent there.
Rycroft revealed that in April 2023, at the start of the new financial year, a further payment of £100 million was made to Rwanda. He said that in the 2024-25 financial year, so presumably next April, there will be a further payment of £50 million. So given Sunak has now said he wants flights to take off in the spring, £290 million may have been sent to Rwanda before a single migrant is.
The government has consistently said that no additional money was sent for the new treaty to be signed, and Rycroft confirmed this. However, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (6 December), Home Secretary James Cleverly completely ignored a question from his opposite number Yvette Cooper when she asked: "Will the Home Secretary tell us, on top of that £140 million, how much more has already been sent as an additional payment this year?"
Today (8 December), a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister did not deny that the payments to Rwanda may end up being only a fraction of the cost of this scheme. She said: "There is also separate investment in Rwanda, work we’ve been doing to boost their capability and strengthen their [asylum] system ... this will address hotel costs of £8 million a day which are unacceptable to the taxpayer."
When asked if the policy was value for money, she added: "Broadly we will always assess if government spending is value for money for the taxpayer. We think that in the long term, this approach will reduce the costs we’re facing in the UK of processing and housing asylum seekers. We’re also mindful we have a moral responsibility when lives are being lost in the Channel."
What has the government said?
This morning, newly appointed Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove defended the spend, telling Times Radio: "We’ve always been clear that this is an economic and migration partnership. We want to support economic development in Rwanda. And of course, there are quite understandably obligations on us to work with Rwanda to make sure that all of the right infrastructure to support the partnership is in place.
“We are going about this work in a constructive way. Part of that money is helpful in making sure that we can respond to the issues properly that the Supreme Court raised, making sure that the capacity is in place to administer the partnership at the first possible opportunity. And I think it’s right that we go about this in the way that we are and when you consider that we’re spending £8 million a day currently in the asylum system you have to look at those spends in that context. That is not sustainable."
What has Labour said?
On the costs, Cooper said last night: "This is just incredible. The Tories' have wasted an astronomical £290 million of taxpayers' money on a failing scheme which hasn't sent a single asylum seeker to Rwanda. How many more blank cheques will Rishi Sunak write before the Tories come clean about this scheme being a total farce? Britain simply can't afford more of this costly chaos from the Conservatives."
Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.